The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued long-awaited technical guidance for cruise lines Friday, bringing them one step closer to sailing again in U.S. waters.
While some cruise lines operating in Europe have been requiring all passengers to be vaccinated, the CDC did not go that far. Vaccination will be critical in the safe resumption of cruising, the agency said, and recommended all eligible port personnel, crew and passengers get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one becomes available to them.
By making vaccinations a recommendation instead of a requirement, the CDC has avoided conflict with Florida, one of the cruise industry’s biggest bases of operations, which has banned businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccinations.
Cruise ships in the United States have been docked for over a year because of the pandemic and can only restart operations by following the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, issued in October to ensure that cruise ships build the onboard infrastructure needed to mitigate the risks of the coronavirus.
The technical instructions will allow cruise lines to prepare their ships for simulation voyages, designed to test health and safety protocols and operational procedures with volunteers before sailing with paying passengers.
The new recommendations include increasing from weekly to daily the reporting of COVID-19 cases, implementing routine testing of all crew based on a ship’s COVID-19 status and making contractual arrangements with medical facilities on shore for passengers who may fall ill during a voyage.
Once cruise lines have prepared their ships, they must give 30 days notice to the CDC before starting test cruises and will have to apply for a conditional sailing certificate 60 days before a planned regular voyage.
Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the industry’s biggest operators, submitted a letter to the CDC on Monday outlining its plan to resume cruises from U.S. ports in July, which included mandatory vaccination of all guests and crew. The company said that its vaccination requirement and multilayered health and safety protocols exceeded the agency’s Conditional Sailing Order requirements.
Cruises from Seattle to Alaska, by Norwegian and other companies, are also blocked by a Canadian ban on such ships entering that nation’s ports. Canada recently extended that ban until February 2022.
Small ship company Windstar Cruises said Monday it also will require passengers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, The Miami Herald reported. The company announced the requirement as it plans to restart cruises in the Caribbean and Mediterranean in June after more than a year out of operation. The company will require crew members to get vaccinated “as soon as vaccinations are available to them.”
But in a statement released Monday, the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade group, called the guidelines “so burdensome and ambiguous that no clear path forward or timetable can be discerned.”
The group called on the CDC to lift its hold on cruises and allow a phased resumption of U.S. sailings starting in July. The group “urges the administration to consider the ample evidence that supports lifting the C.S.O. this month to allow for the planning of a controlled return to service this summer,” the statement said.